It was clear at the time of this demo in June 2013. It's even more clear now: killing badgers is no solution to bovine TB. Photo: David Clare via Flickr.com.
We know enough - the badger cull must stop!
28th February 2014
Now we know - the pilot badger culls have inflicted unacceptable cruelty on wild animals and failed to meet their key objective. They may even have spread bovine TB into new areas. Lesley Docksey concludes - its time to call the whole thing off!
The findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.
It was only a matter of time before the leaks started. At 5:45 am, at the beginning of the Farming Today programme, the BBC announced that it had learnt that the Independent Expert Panel had concluded that the pilot badger culls held last year were neither effective nor humane.
The culls were set up to test the process of controlled shooting, and had to satisfy three criteria: that controlled shooting should be "safe, effective and humane".
The Panel was set up to examine these criteria. Their conclusions would, said Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, "inform my decision on the wider roll-out of badger control in those parts of England most severely affected by this disease."
Expert Panel report - postponed indefinitely?
For weeks badgers and their champions have been anxiously waiting for the Independent Expert Panel's report to appear. Expected to be published in January, this was then postponed to "the end of February" and has now been delayed yet again until March or later.
But, as The Ecologist reported at the beginning of February, it was already known in some quarters that the report would not produce what Defra and Paterson wanted. The news from the BBC makes that abundantly clear.
The Panel has given the safety aspect the green light. That must be due to some heavy and very expensive policing. It's true that nobody got shot, but there was some aggressive harassment of wounded badger patrols, a box of cartridges left forgotten in the grass, protesters' cars rammed and some arrests.
Humaneness - a Fail
However, the leaked information on the 'humaneness' aspect is very worrying. The standard set was that no more than 5% of the badgers killed should take more than 5 minutes to die. But the Panel found the time limit was "exceeded by between 6.4% and 18% of shot animals, depending on the assumptions made."
Whose assumptions? The Panel's or those of the men shooting the badgers? And remember that only a percentage of the badgers killed would have been selected, by those doing the shooting, for examination as to how they died.
As much of the Panel's work would have to depend on possibly biased reporting from the guns, their conclusions also have to be 'assumptions'. Nor, apparently, are they satisfied with standards set by some of those contracted to do the killing.
Until we see the full report we will not know the true extent of the lack of 'humaneness' of these culls. For, while these figures talk about the number of badgers that took an unacceptable time to die, what of those who may have been only slightly wounded by died days later from infection?
How can there be any really accurate reporting of shooting of animals in the dark?
Effectiveness - an even bigger Fail
The figures for the 'effectiveness' of the pilot culls are even more shocking. Defra set up the culls on the proposition (taken from the results of the randomised badger culling trials (RBCT) overseen by Lord Krebs) that - in order to have any effect on the incidence of TB in cattle - 70% of the badger population in the designated area had to be killed.
This had to be done within six weeks. Prolonging the period could lead to infected badgers fleeing and infecting new areas. The RBCT found that the incidence of TB outside a cull area could rise by as much as 39%. And prolong the period for both culls is what Natural England did.
The Panel only looked at the evidence from the initial six weeks of both pilot culls. We had been told that, in those six weeks, 58% of badgers had been killed in Somerset and 30% in Gloucester.
But "the independent panel's analysis, which used more precise methodology, found that less than half of badgers were killed in both areas over the six-week period."
A 'dishonest filleting of the data'
Even by their own criteria, Defra simply cannot claim that going ahead with more culls will have any effect at all on dealing with bovine TB. And their own criteria are based on a constant misreading of the results of the RBCT study and a refusal to listen to Lord Krebs. On 21 October 2011 he made this statement in the House of Lords:
"It is worth briefly repeating the facts: the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there.
"To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning; it is just that there is 16% less than there would have been without a cull. The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading - a dishonest filleting of the data.
"The other thing that the experts conclude is that culling makes the situation worse at the beginning so it will take a long time to emerge into this Nirvana of a 16% reduction, and 84% of the problem is still there."
The only effect this clear statement had was to make the NFU very angry. Both they and Defra need to look at that 84%. Better biosecurity and a stricter TB testing regime are already reducing TB.
Time to stop the culls
Moreover any effectiveness of the pilot culls could only truly be judged after 9 years have passed. Paterson doesn't want to wait that long. He wants more culls this year and on into the future.
Shouldn't Defra and the NFU now forget culling altogether and devote their time to biosecurity, testing and vaccines?
The latest figures from Wales, where instead of culling they have gone for a programme of vaccinating badgers, show that the slaughter of cattle due to TB has been reduced by 33%. Surely all English farmers would welcome that.
Either that or they must admit - they simply enjoy killing wildlife.
Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who contributes articles to The Ecologist and other news media with international reach on issues of war, peace, politics and the environment.
See her other articles for The Ecologist.
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